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Five Alumni
Five Former Supreme Court Clerks
One Firm

by Michelle Koidin Jaffee

Clockwise from top left, John Adams ’03, Katherine Mims Crocker ’12, Brian Schmalzbach ’10, Rebecca Gantt ’11, Matt Fitzgerald ’08

Clockwise from top left, John Adams ’03, Katherine Mims Crocker ’12, Brian Schmalzbach ’10, Rebecca Gantt ’11, Matt Fitzgerald ’08

For Brian Schmalzbach ’10, Rebecca Gantt ’11, and Katherine Mims Crocker ’12, serving on the Virginia Law Review was only the start of their intersecting career paths.

After graduating, each went on to clerk at the Supreme Court of the United States—and now all three have returned to Virginia to practice with McGuireWoods.

It’s a recruitment win for the Richmond-based firm, bringing to five the number of former U.S. Supreme Court clerks among its ranks—all UVA Law alumni. The Law School is fourth in contributing the most clerks to the Supreme Court from 2005 through 2014, after Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. In the fall, four Law School graduates will clerk for the Court, tying a school record from the 2009–10 term.

“The culture of UVA produces lawyers who are well rounded,” says John D. Adams ’03, who serves as the firm’s hiring partner. “They know how to work hard. They’re obviously smart. But they also know how to treat people.”
McGuireWoods, with its growing appellate practice, is intentionally focused on pursuing recruits of the Supreme Court level, says Adams, a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas.

“There’s something about the young people who make it all the way to the Court—they really love the law,” he says. “They attack assignments with intensity because of their passion for the law.”

The three new hires have joined the appellate practice, with Schmalzbach and Crocker based in Richmond and Gantt in Norfolk.

“There’s been a lot of conventional wisdom in the past that you had to go to a big D.C. firm in order to get the most sophisticated work and have good opportunities moving forward in your career, but that’s really not necessarily true,” says Matt Fitzgerald ’08, who came to McGuireWoods following a clerkship for Justice Thomas. “McGuireWoods is a good example of a firm with a major national presence [that’s] every bit as sophisticated as many of the big D.C. firms, and so the clerks realize that.”

In recent interviews with UVA Lawyer, the three new associates elaborated on the experiences that shaped them, their roads to the Supreme Court, and their new roles.

Katherine Mims Crocker ’12
For Crocker, a Harvard grad and native of Sterling, Va., one formative Law School experience was A.E. Dick Howard’s seminar on the Supreme Court; she later led a team of research assistants for the professor in a project involving the Court.

“At the time I didn’t know I might have the opportunity to clerk there, but it really taught me a lot about the Court and built my interest in it,” says Crocker, who clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia.

Crocker, 29, also points to Michael Collins’ classes in federal courts and civil rights litigation: “Those classes are both very focused on jurisdictional issues, and I would often rely on what I learned during both of my clerkships.”
Serving as an articles development editor of the Law Review was a key experience for Crocker. “Being able to work in a small group of people, discuss big and exciting ideas, and challenge each other prepared me for working collaboratively with my co-clerks, both at the Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court,” she says.

Crocker clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III ’72 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, as did Schmalzbach before her. “We were both really fortunate to be able to clerk for him for many reasons. Plus he has such a great track record of sending clerks on to the Supreme Court,” Crocker says. “I know that experience helped prepare us for clerking there.”

Crocker enjoyed the collaboration among the clerks. “It’s an amazing concentration of young legal talent that you get to be part of for a year,” she says. “I learned a lot of things just from hearing how people approach problems from different perspectives. And I’m not referring to ideological differences—people just think through things differently, and getting to see that process in action was really amazing.”

McGuireWoods offered an opportunity to work with Adams and Fitzgerald. “Especially being at the very start of my career, having strong mentors with appellate experience means a lot to me,” Crocker says.

And the move to Richmond has brought her closer to family: Crocker’s father is Justice William C. Mims of the Supreme Court of Virginia.

“He has influenced me in so many positive ways, since long before he was a Supreme Court justice,” she says. “It’s been really inspiring to see him give so much of his life to public service.”

Rebecca Gantt ’11
Gantt, who grew up on a cattle farm in Nelson County, Va., and went to Harvard on a U.S. Navy ROTC scholarship, served as a Surface Warfare Officer for five years before coming to the Law School.

“We had really, really excellent professors who were willing to spend time with you and cared about teaching,” she says.

One class that was especially useful for Gantt was Rachel Harmon’s criminal investigation class. “I used that class the most during my clerkships,” Gantt says. “It was thorough and comprehensive.”

Gantt completed three clerkships, including one for Justice Stephen G. Breyer. She notes that strong relationships between students and professors pave the way toward clerkships. “For me, Micah Schwartzman was incredibly helpful and is really an asset to the school,” she says.

A former lieutenant in the Navy who twice deployed on a destroyer to the Persian Gulf during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gantt, 33, continues to draw on the skills she developed during her military service.

“The military gives young people generally an incredible amount of responsibility at a really young age, which initially terrified me, but eventually I became accustomed to it and found out how rewarding it could be,” says Gantt, who received a Navy Commendation Medal and two Navy Achievement Medals. “I think that was part of my decision to come to a firm like McGuireWoods rather than a bigger firm—I felt I could get some of that autonomy and responsibility.”

Brian Schmalzbach ’10
In both private practice and in his clerkships for Judge Wilkinson and Justice Thomas, Schmalzbach says he could hear the words of his UVA Law professors echoing in his mind.

“I think Caleb Nelson’s legislation class should be required for everyone, but certainly anyone who’s going to clerk in the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court,” Schmalzbach says. “I think about that class just about every day in my practice but certainly during the clerkships.”

A native of Arlington, Va., Schmalzbach is a Double Hoo, an Echols Scholar with a bachelor’s focusing on classics and religious studies. “One thing that strikes me when I hear other people describe their experiences at other law schools is the ideological slant you sometimes get in classes,” Schmalzbach says. “I really can’t come up with a time when that happened at UVA.”

In private practice in Washington, D.C., he worked on a Fourth Amendment case that went to the Supreme Court. “I remember hearing the facts of the case and immediately Professor [Anne] Coughlin’s criminal investigation class came flooding into my mind. Almost by the time I had finished hearing about the facts of the case, I knew exactly what the arguments were going to have to be, and which cases we were going to cite. It struck me at the time that Professor Coughlin had done a wonderful job preparing us for something like that.”

Coming out of clerkship, Schmalzbach wanted to join a firm that had the infrastructure for an appellate practice already in place, but away from D.C.

“McGuireWoods recognized that it could attract really good talent to places outside of D.C. that are in some ways more livable,” says Schmalzbach, 29. “I wanted to do great appellate work of the sort I had been doing in D.C., but I just didn’t want to live in D.C. So when McGuireWoods made me an offer to come to Richmond, it seemed like a great opportunity to do the work I wanted to do, but also to live the lifestyle I wanted to live, and that’s why I ended up here.”